Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A Jump from the Third Floor

I am troubled. Walking to the coffee shop, I unconsciously click my teeth together as I pass over each sidewalk crack. I stop short and remember my great-grandmother, then look at my reflection in the shop’s plate-glass window. Do I look disconnected? Wild eyed? Show a propensity for jumping out of windows?

My family talked often about Great-grandmother Nan, a woman Grandmother described as tiny and spirited, a whirling dervish on their many acres hosting cows, sheep, and the catfish pond. Nan bounced out of bed to milk the cows before dawn, always starting with Hessie, her favorite, then moving on to the other nine. Her small, strong hands pushed milk into buckets so fast my grandmother joked it “’purt near made butter—like she was churning it right there!” But the story Grandmother relayed the most, at our request, was the story of Nan’s dramatic death.

Yesterday, a month after turning 35, I broke down in violent, hysterical sobs in my car for no reason—two days in a row now. At midnight, unable to sleep, I dug from my closet my small shoe box of Nan’s possessions, each given to me over several Christmases by Grandmother. A starched doily, a dull flowered teacup, and a stained handkerchief stared back at me. Their fragility echoed that of Nan and the picture I had in my head, her small body twisted in wrong angles on the front lawn moments after, according to Grandmother, she ran screaming through the house and threw herself through a third-story window in the large farmhouse.

Grandmother stubbornly calls Nan’s trouble epilepsy, though her stories make it clear it was much more. Chest tight, staring for too many moments at the change in my hand courtesy of the curious barista, I wonder how much blood matters.

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